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University Of Dayton Geologist Awarded NASA Grant To Study Glaciers

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NASA
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NASA and the Indian Space Research Organization are working on a new satellite that will use advanced radar technology to investigate global environmental change.

In preparation for that launch, NASA has offered research grants to scientists interested in this new data. University of Dayton Professor Umesh Haritashya won $100,000 in funding to try to detect what is happening below the surface of glaciers. WYSO’s Leila Goldstein spoke with him about the project.

The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Can you explain what your project is about and what it is intended to do?

Specifically, in my project, we proposed that we can use these satellite or spacecraft data sets, radar data, to actually look at the glaciers and see how they are melting, how these sediments on the glaciers are affecting the melting patters. As the satellites fly over these areas, they send the signals down and they collect these signals back as they are responding back from the surface.

How does this technology help you understand more about how glaciers are moving and melting, and to see below the surface of the glacier?

In general, optical satellites that we see on a day-to-day basis, they can see what our eyes can see. If our eyes can see clouds, satellites can see clouds as well. If our eyes can see trees, satellites can see trees as well. But radar is different. It sends signals, it does not rely on the sun, and collects the information back. In that sense, we are hoping that these sensors will be able to penetrate through the top layer of the sediment which is on the ice. We do not know how much it can go, at this point in time, because this is a test run. But we are hoping that it will be able to provide some information below the top layer of the sediment, ice, or snow, and help us understand better what's going on a few centimeters or a few millimeters below the surface.

Why is it important that you have a better understanding of that data? What are the broader implications?

I'll take an example from my research, which is glaciers. There are aspects of glaciers which we still are not able to properly understand. In other words, this satellite or spacecraft data, radar data will help us understand those things. In a broader context, it will help us understand how climate change is impacting the glaciers and also, hopefully, how glacier changes are impacting water resources and sea level rise.